Today, we’ll learn a brief history of chocolate and focus on its development in Switzerland and why chocolate is synonymous with Switzerland. I will analyse the latest data about whether chocolate is good for you and lastly I will take you on a whistle stop tour of 4 chocolate factories which are open to the public and where you can indulge in this delicious treat.
The origin of chocolate goes back 4,000 years to Mexico where the first cacao plants were found. The Olmecs, one of the earliest civilizations in Latin America, were the first to turn the cacao plant into chocolate. They drank their chocolate during rituals and used it as medicine. Centuries later, the Mayans praised chocolate as the drink of the gods.
Mayan chocolate was a revered brew made of roasted and ground cacao seeds mixed with chillies, water and cornmeal. Mayans poured this mixture from one pot to another, creating a thick foamy beverage called “xocolatl”, meaning “bitter water.”
By the 15th century, the Aztecs used cocoa beans as currency. They believed that chocolate was a gift from the god Quetzalcoatl, and drank it as a refreshing beverage, an aphrodisiac, and even to prepare for war.
No one knows for sure when chocolate came to Spain. Legend has it that explorer Hernán Cortés brought chocolate to his homeland in 1528. Cortés was believed to have discovered chocolate during an expedition to the Americas. In search of gold and riches, he instead found a cup of cocoa given to him by the Aztec emperor. So this is how chocolate came to Europe and later in this article, I will inform you about how Switzerland became so important in the development of chocolate as we know today.
First though, some facts about chocolate and our health. Here are some well known facts:
Recent research suggests that chocolate may have some health benefits which go against the traditional view that chocolate is bad for you. The main reason chocolate receives this bad press is because of its high fat and sugar content. Its consumption has been associated with acne, obesity, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and diabetes.
However, there is a growing amount of evidence showing that cocoa, the key ingredient in chocolate contains biologically active phenolic compounds (antioxidants) which may have a range of health benefits such as
One element that is widely recognised is the higher the cocoa content the more health benefits there are, so dark chocolate clearly is the healthy option if there is one and one must also take into account the other “less healthy” ingredients, such as sugar and fat.
So why do Switzerland and chocolate go together like hand-in-glove? Well there is no major reason apart from a group of Swiss chocolate pioneers starting in the 17th Century started to “play with” and process chocolate which at that time did not resemble the chocolate we enjoy today. Only in the 1800s did we see the first significant improvement in chocolate production, starting with the first mechanised chocolate factory in Vevey by François-Louis Cailler who had worked as an apprentice with Italian chocolatiers in Ticino. Cailler’s machinery began churning out the first mass-produced Swiss chocolate.
Then came Rodolphe Lindt based in Bern merging with the Sprungli family in 1892 which is the basis of the modern day Lindt brand we see today. Lindt was responsible for creating the conching method which gives chocolate its creamy smooth texture and Daniel Peter and Henri Nestlé added milk powder to produce milk chocolate. In 1908, Tobler produced his famous triangular shape Toblerone bar with nougat, almonds and honey and in the 1930s Nestle launched its white chocolate milky bar.
So those are the main elements in the history of why Switzerland and chocolate have a long history. To give you an idea of just how big this industry is – the Annual revenues of chocolate production in Switzerland are about 1.5 billion Swiss francs (about $1.5 billion) and the Swiss produce about 180,000 tons of chocolate per year.
So where does all this chocolate making take place and can you see it all happening? The good news is that there are over a dozen such places in Switzerland where you can visit and see how chocolate is made and naturally sample and buy as much chocolate as you can afford!! Here are some of the best places I know personally and take my guests there as well.
So here are 4 of the most well-known chocolate places to visit in Switzerland. There are over 10 other chocolate places located all over Switzerland such as Alpenrose in Lugano, Laderach in Bilton, Chocolat Frey in Buchs and Camille Bloch in Courtelary.
There is a relatively inexpensive entry fee for all the places listed and all are well worth a visit whether you are a chocolate lover or not. I am sure that after a trip to one of these chocolate-filled places, you will agree that Switzerland produces the best chocolate mainly because you might just have sampled more than you should have
This small family run chocolate factory prides itself on producing fresh chocolate for large and small companies as well as its own brand. A large production facility and a mouth-watering café, there is Choco world which gives visitors an insight into the world of chocolate, the history and just about everything you need to know about it. It is customary at all these tasty places, there are plenty of sampling stations including 3 chocolate fountains – delicious !!
This massive facility opened on September 13th this year and will boost a multi-media and interactive exhibition, a research facility and show production. Furthermore, the world’s largest Lindt chocolate shop, a Lindt café and a Lindt Chocolateria for chocolate courses. A special highlight, however, is the world’s largest chocolate fountain in the entrance area which is more than 9 metres tall.
Explore the story of our chocolate through a series of interactive, multi-sensorial experiences, and maybe uncover a few secrets along the way.
Our unique museum tour of about one hour leads you through the history of chocolate, from Aztec cocoa ceremonies to the innovations of today. Discover how we use exquisite cocoa beans and high-quality ingredients to make the finest chocolate creations, and indulge your palate with an amazing variety of flavours during a chocolate tasting.
Discover the chocolate factory independently and solve the secret of how happiness gets into chocolate. Enjoy a sweet journey through the fantastic world of discovery. Product sampling included!
So there you go, 4 of the most mouth-watering and delicious chocolate experiences in Switzerland. If any one of them has whet your appetite to visit, check out our Chocolate, Cheese & Drinks tour for more information.